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Ministry, leadership, seminaries, and the church

Posted by on Jul 5, 2013 in blog links | 17 comments

Ministry, leadership, seminaries, and the church

Yesterday morning (July 4, 2013 at 7:55 a.m.), Dave Black shared some of his thoughts related to ministry, leadership, seminaries, and the church. His observations and conclusions come from studying the New Testament as well as working closely with the church in Ethiopia for the last several years.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia with Dave. I saw the work that God was doing through him and many others there. I also observed many of the same issues that he illustrates below.

However, I think these same problems are alive and well among the church in the United States.

Here are his “thoughts” related to ministry, leadership, seminaries, and the church:

1) Most of the “ministry” in Ethiopia is done by ordained clergy who are seminary trained and are paid for their ministry. Often the people perceive them to be the ministers of the church. Becky and I are committed to involving more of the Body in ministry. And we are training the leaders of the local churches to do their best to equip others (2 Tim. 2:2).

2) The resident seminaries in Ethiopia are usually geared to training academically superior leaders who are required to dislocate themselves from their homes and communities for at least 3 years. This model of education, as I have often said, is beset with 3 problems: extraction, expense, and elitism. Extracting leaders from their communities is very expensive and often leads to a sense of elitism among the graduates. We are beginning to train leaders in their home environments. We do not believe that servants-in-training need to be uprooted from their homes. Nor do we believe that theological education need involve formal schooling; indeed, traditional theological education is, we are sadly discovering, often a disadvantage.

3) We believe that the best leadership development occurs in local churches. Students should be living in their homes, serving in their churches, and active in their communities as they exercise teaching, preaching, administrative, and evangelistic functions. Again, our experience has shown that when we extract students from their culture, many of them are unwilling or unable to return to the towns from which they came.

4) What should be the curriculum of leadership training? We believe that the best textbook is the Bible itself. Hence the scholar-teachers who come with us to Ethiopia do verse-by-verse exposition of a book of the Bible with a constant focus on practical ministry.

I suppose our convictions might be summarized as follows.

  • All believers are called to be ministers in building the kingdom of God.

  • Spiritual leaders have the responsibility to equip all members of the Body to serve.
  • Theological education is best accomplished on site rather than in faraway seminaries.
  • Theological education finds its fulfillment within the framework of the local church.
  • The proper end of all theological training is ministry, not degrees or ordination.
  • The aim of teaching is not to impart knowledge but to produce obedient disciples.
  • If a man is seminary-trained but not living in a manner that is obedient to the commands of the Lord Jesus, he is not qualified to lead.

By the way, while you’re thinking through some of these things, please pray for Dave’s wife BeckyLynn. You can read about what she’s going through in her essay “Running to Home Base.”


17 Comments

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  1. 7-5-2013

    “the scholar-teachers who come with us to Ethiopia do verse-by-verse exposition of a book of the Bible”
    1. Why only scholar teachers? Isn’t this loaded with elitism and academic heavy loading of the idea of serving?
    Why no godly layfolk?
    2. When I hear “exposition” I hear one way communication of truth only by experts. I hear those lay folk have no capability to understand the word unless the cookies are put on the lower shelf for them.

    Am I hearing wrong? Who is modeling for them receiving truth from non-experts?

  2. 7-5-2013

    Alan,

    I read Dr. Black’s comments yesterday and it got me wondering. If these sentiments are held by many seminary professors, then why do you think seminaries continue to churn out graduates that intend to contribute to the status quo?

    Dr. Black rightly states, “Theological education is best accomplished on site rather than in faraway seminaries. Theological education finds its fulfillment within the framework of the local church.” Since this is the case, why do so many seminary professors continue to collect paychecks at schools that do the exact opposite of what Dr. Black says?

    I realize that small steps of improvement are needed over time. However, it seems to me that at least in the SBC the seminaries are getting larger rather than smaller. I see a big disconnect in this. What do you think?

  3. 7-5-2013

    Tim,

    I can’t tell you exactly what Dave meant by “scholar-teachers.” However, I can tell you that people who were not seminary trained went to Ethiopia with him and taught. The style of teaching was usually left up to the ones teaching and the audience. For example, when I went, my goal was to teach in a very interactive manner. The people I taught were not ready for true discussion yet, so I used alot of question/answer in my teaching.

    Eric,

    That’s a good question. I can’t answer that for him. I have heard him tell seminary students and potential seminary students in the USA the same thing.

    -Alan

  4. 7-5-2013

    I think these are valid questions and worthy observations but I do have some reaction to the suggestion that “education” is a detriment in terms of advanced knowledge and training.

    Seminaries in general are institutional arms of leadership preparation that exist to develop people who will continue to maintain and perpetuate the institutions that have collectively banded together to create them.

    We’re now in an age of technology where physical location at the center of learning is not as vital as it once was. Instead of us going to Seminary, Seminary is now better equipped to come to us. I expect that trend will continue. Rather than being that simple however, the same advantages exists for most within the Church and so the need for the traditional forms of leadership that Seminaries train are themselves radically changing. We are indeed in an era of reform and change that in my opinion is every bit as significant and radical as the impact that the printing press brought to the world in both the Renaissance and the Reformation.

    That said, I’m leery of anything that suggests a return to the not so distant evangelical ideas that somehow advances learning is a threat to faith and practice. If there is a need to return trained servants (which I think is a word that is underused where “leadership” is overused) then that can be accomplished through a new paradigm of education,, mentoring and maintaining connection and location in the context of local community. That doesn’t necessarily make practical experience by itself a replacement for education but rather a rejoining that has perhaps been long overdue.

    Let’s not return or somehow elevate again the idea that education is itself a threat or that ignorance is an advantage. I don’t see that as a worthy goal.

  5. 7-5-2013

    Eric expressed my same question exactly. I love Dr. Black, but there seems to be a disconnect here.

  6. 7-5-2013

    Bart,

    Concerning your “reaction to the suggestion that ‘education’ is a detriment in terms of advanced knowledge and training,” I read back over Dave’s “thoughts,” and he seems to be saying the same thing you are. Did I miss something?

    Scott,

    That disconnect in my own life is one of the reasons that I’m no longer pursuing an academic career. However, I do think it’s possible to pursue an academic career without a disconnect… it just wouldn’t work for me.

    -Alan

  7. 7-5-2013

    Alan, the equating of academic excellence is equated with a sense of elitism and is not something in and of itself to be desired or useful along with the other elements that he believes are lacking suggests to me that there is an element of anti-intellectualism present.

    The idea that verse by verse exposition of scripture without a hermeneutic framework being established suggests this further to me.

  8. 7-5-2013

    Bart,

    I don’t understand your concern about “anti-inellectualism” in this post for a few reasons, including 1) Dave Black is a seminary professor and 2) he encourages theological education in these “thoughts,” although he thinks it’s best done in a local community in Christ, not by shipping someone off to another location away from their church family. What leads you to believe that there is not a “hermeneutic framework”?

    -Alan

  9. 7-5-2013

    Alan,

    I don’t know Dave Black. I can only go by what is on the original post and articles you shared.

    Perhaps my impressions are not fair in the eyes of those who may know him better or have seen these concerns addressed in other contexts by him.

    You asked for responses however and based on what has been shared above that is my impression and I’ve answered twice before tying my second response directly to the article. If you’re saying that those are concerns that would be addressed better by me knowing Dave Black or reading more than what you quoted above then I am open to that.

    However, in the context of what you’ve provided above those are concerns that arise for me after reading what has been said in what you chose to present.

    Quoting from the article above directly,

    “We believe that the best textbook is the Bible itself. Hence the scholar-teachers who come with us to Ethiopia do verse-by-verse exposition of a book of the Bible with a constant focus on practical ministry.”

    I’ve seen many forms of statements similar to that that are used to suggest that the study or employment of things like textual criticism, historical criticism, literary criticism etc. are contrary to simply reading the Bible and perhaps you’ve observed yourself in places that an appeal to the Bible to the exclusion or diminishing of these elements to the point can lead in instances to people suggesting that their theology, because it comes from the Bible alone has no element of a hermeneutic or personal interpretation of scripture present and therefor to challenge their doctrine is to challenge the Bible itself and to disagree with God.

    Perhaps I’m overly sensitive to these elements and their unfairly raised in the instance of this particular person in this particular context, but again, all I have to go on here is what is stated above and based upon that, those are concerns that arise on my part.

    If that’s offensive to you or out of place, then feel free to remove my comments and I apologize for presuming to give my impressions.

  10. 7-5-2013

    Mr. Knox may I know if Becky is still alive , and how good or worse her condition is?

  11. 7-5-2013

    Thanks, Alan. That is exactly what we are starting to do among the fellowships here – as we continue to grow and adapt. We’ve now started a weekly cross-fellowship class focused on those who in turn are providing leadership within those fellowships (although anyone from those fellowships can come) – with in-depth study, dialog, scholarship and learning centered on scripture and core doctrines.

    We have borrowed some ideas from Miguel Labrador based on the leadership/disciple development he and Claudia are doing with the fellowships that they have helped start in the Cloud Region of Ecuador.

    What many fail to appreciate is that an indigenous, cultural approach here in the U.S. is just as much needed as in Ethiopia and in Ecuador.

  12. 7-5-2013

    I would point everyone to Dr. Black’s own response to this on his blog today (July 5) – time stamped at 2:40pm. He did not need to respond, but did. I found his response very gracious, humble and helpful. I deeply appreciate Dr. Black’s Christ-like response and find it a great example and very helpful.

  13. 7-5-2013

    Bart,

    Thanks for the explanation. Your statements were not offensive. I can understand your concerns. Dave Black is not an anti-intellectual, and he does not prescribe to individualistic hermeneutics or private interpretations. In fact, from what I’ve seen, he encourages a community hermeneutic. His statement “We believe that the best textbook is the Bible itself,” seems to suggest that he wants people to seek understanding of “leadership training” from Scripture first.

    But, like you’re comments have shown, we are always reading within a certain context. I read Dave’s statements from a context of knowing him and how he works in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, you read from a different context. By asking questions, you actually expanded the context of the statements and helped others understand better, even if they do not know Dave and his service to our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia.

    Franklin,

    According to the update on Dave’s blog, BeckyLynn had a rough day today, but she’s still alive.

    Jim,

    Interestingly, I’ve found that many of the ideas brought up in the “organic” or “simple” church have been used on the “mission field” for some time.

    Scott,

    I agree. That was a very gracious response – but, then, I’ve come to expect gracious responses from him. Like he said, whether someone servers in academia or not, we can all trust God, respond to his leading, and follow Jesus.

    -Alan

  14. 7-6-2013

    Wow, Ethiopia’s church and leadership development is such a mess. Glad I live in the US…

  15. 7-7-2013

    Art,

    Funny! There were some positive aspects of leadership among the church in Ethiopia (at least, among the brothers and sisters we spent time with).

    -Alan

  16. 7-12-2013

    It is not biblical to discourage the use of accomplished teachers in educating the members of the church in favor of using ungifted members to perform this important task.

    1 Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive heavier judgment.
    James 3:1 World English Bible (WEB)

    Timothy is a great example of a well studied servant of God that was used to guide the church doctrinally. The Bible text suggests that he functioned as an evangelist to the churches of God.

    5 But you be sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill your ministry.
    2 Timothy 4:5 World English Bible (WEB)

  17. 7-12-2013

    Wayne,

    I don’t see where anyone is discouraging spiritually gifted teachers from teaching. I would definitely encourage spiritually gifted teachers to teach. I would also encourage any believers to teach, since that was Paul’s exhortation also.

    Do you think that formal “seminary education” refers to the same thing as the “teachers” in the James passage you quoted?

    -Alan